Teaching Children with Autism: Tips for Parents to Start Today
You can help your child’s learning and development with simple strategies.
Autism can affect a child’s ability to interact, play and learn. However, studies have shown that parental involvement in teaching children with autism can make a difference in their learning process.
According to special education needs experts and child specialists, autistic children see positive changes in their social and communication skills when parents learn and implement teaching strategies to help them learn.
For example, the American Academy of Paediatrics has gathered recommendations from top researchers about autism intervention methods for children on the spectrum.
They suggest that parents who use daily routines as learning opportunities can help their children usetheir new skills in everyday situations. Without this consistency, children may struggle to make progress.
Recently, RYTHM Foundation commissioned a study to develop a comprehensive school-based special education programme in Malaysia. Conducted by Universiti Malaya, the research also concluded that parental involvement is crucial for neurodivergent children. RYTHM is the social impact initiative of the QI Group and manages Taarana School.
Read more: Malaysia’s Universiti Malaya Presents Commissioned Study Findings for Model SNE School
While it can be difficult for parents to engage their children at times, it is possible to learn methods to interact with autistic children to promote communication and social interaction.
Our teachers and therapists at Taarana are dedicated to providing autism intervention resources. Here, they share some simple teaching strategies you can start at home today:
Use Visual Aids
Most children with autism learn better when they see things rather than hear them. Visual aids – pictures, objects, diagrams, live demonstrations, or written words – can be powerful for teaching children with autism. It can help them to:
- Understand and follow directions
- Improve their ability to request and express needs
- Follow schedules and sequences, and
- Aid communication for non-verbal or less verbal autistic children
Effective visual aids include using fridge magnets for spelling, buttons for counting, drawing and matching shapes or colours, and step-by-step diagrams for learning behaviour. These are ideal for their interactive and engaging learning aspects.
Simple Words For Instructions
Autistic children often have trouble understanding figurative language or abstract concepts and tend to interpret things literally. To ensure they understand:
- Keep instructions short and simple when teaching children with autism
- Break tasks and instructions into smaller, manageable chunks, and
- Allow the child extra time to process instructions.
By simplifying the language and breaking down instructions into smaller steps, you can help them better understand what is expected of them and reduce frustration and confusion.
Read more: 8 Helpful Tips for Helping Your Special Needs Child with Their Homework
Identify Autism Hyper-Fixation or Hyper Focus
Children with autism often have narrow interests and intense focus, which can be used to motivate and engage them in the learning process. If you notice a child’s fixated behaviour on a particular subject or object:
- Use it to your advantage by creating learning activities that incorporate their interests
- For example, if a child likes to play with marbles, create a learning activity like counting the marbles or colour sorting
- Keep track of their fixation and encourage it only during stipulated times as a reward to prevent unhealthy routines and obsession.
Using their fixation this way can make learning more enjoyable and help them develop new skills while maintaining a healthy balance between learning and play.
Read more: The Power of Positive Reinforcement in Special Needs Education: 5 Advantages You Need to Know
Understanding Autism Sensory Issues
Sensory processing issues like hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity are common in individuals with autism and can significantly impact their daily lives. Therefore, understanding and addressing these in the learning or home environment can substantially benefit an autistic child’s development.
Hypersensitivity is a heightened response to sensory input. It can cause over-responsiveness to stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, textures, or too much colour. As a result, it can lead to sensory overload, anxiety, and avoidance of certain activities.
Minimising stimuli and reducing distractions is essential to help children with hypersensitivity improve attention and optimise learning. Here are some ways:
- Create a closed-door learning space
- Dim the lights and minimise clutter
- Use noise-cancelling headphones to reduce sound
- Weighted blankets provide touch pressure for calming
On the other hand, hyposensitivity can cause under-responsiveness to stimuli, and the child may seek additional sensory input such as touching things, rocking back and forth, shaking legs, or stimming. As a result, it can lead to a lack of awareness of danger, difficulty with social interaction, and an increased need for sensory stimulation.
Minimise their urge to seek more sensory input to help them focus during learning through these methods:
- Have movement breaks before focus periods – such as walks, jumping or jogging in a spot
- Allow feely objects or fidget spinners to keep them alert and active
- Allow music during periods of individual activities
- Create opportunities for touch in their day through sensory play such as baking, or tactile/sand bins
Read more: Unlock Your Child’s Full Potential: 10 Reasons Why Parental Involvement in Therapy for Differently-abled Children is Important
These simple strategies for teaching children with autism can help parents actively participate in their child’s learning and development. In addition, parental involvement with teachers and therapists ensures a higher frequency and consistency of learning, which is crucial to the development of children on the spectrum.
Let’s build bridges between teachers and parents because education is not one-size-fits-all – especially with neurodivergent children. Their future depends on our support now.